Oklahoma saw an average of 37 residents die from alcohol poisoning per year from 2010-12, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows.
Oklahoma had the 11th-highest rate of alcohol poisoning deaths from 2010-12, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis released Tuesday.
The state saw an average of 37 residents die from alcohol poisoning per year from 2010-12, the study shows. That left the state with a rate of 12.6 alcohol poisoning deaths per million people age 15 and older.
Health leaders say it might seem like a small number, but the data give a glimpse into a much larger problem that Oklahoma faces in addressing alcohol abuse.
“This report is looking at only alcohol poisonings, so these are people who consumed so much alcohol that they died as a result of that particular consumption,” said Terri White, the state’s mental health and substance abuse commissioner. “This report doesn’t even take into account people who died from liver cirrhosis because of their ongoing drinking, people who died by suicide when alcohol was involved, people who died by other types of poisoning when there’s a combination of alcohol and other drugs … This is, if you will, the tip of the iceberg.”
In Tuesday’s report, Oklahoma ranked behind Alaska (46.5 deaths per million people age 15 and older), New Mexico (32.7 deaths), Rhode Island (22.8 deaths), Arizona (18.7 deaths), Wyoming (17.7 deaths), South Dakota (17 deaths), Utah (16.7 deaths), Minnesota (16.4 deaths), Colorado (14.4 deaths) and Oregon (12.7 deaths) in rate of alcohol poisoning deaths.
Nationwide, more than 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year, an average of six deaths each day, according to the CDC report.
“Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias said in a news release. “We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning.”
‘Hard to find help’
Between 700,000 and 950,000 people in Oklahoma are in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment. However, 6 out of 10 adults do not receive the treatment they need, local health officials said.
White said the waiting list for state-funded substance abuse beds has grown from 600 to 900 people to a present-day waiting list of 1,500 people.
“(We) still only reach about one-third of Oklahomans who need help, and when you look at the gap — when you separate it between adults and children, and mental health and addiction — the single biggest gap is substance abuse treatment for our youth,” White said. “So if you’re a mom or dad in Oklahoma whose teenager is struggling, it is heartbreakingly hard to find help.”
CDC researchers found that 3 in 4 alcohol poisoning deaths involve adults ages 35 to 64, and most deaths occur among men and non-Hispanic white people.
Nationwide, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the most alcohol poisoning deaths per million people, according to the CDC.
The same is true in Oklahoma.
Twenty of the 111 residents ages 15 and older who died from alcohol poisoning from 2010-12 were American Indian or Alaska Native. That’s 24 deaths per 1 million residents age 15 and older, double the alcohol poisoning death rate among white Oklahomans.
Eighty-one white residents died from alcohol poisoning during the same time frame, a rate of 11 deaths per 1 million people.
Summer Duke, behavioral health director at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, said the historical trauma and loss of culture that American Indians have suffered contributes to the health issues found within the population.
“The things that this population has been through have left a number of people feeling a loss of their identity, which leads to … depression, suicide, violence against women, alcohol abuse and diabetes,” Duke said. “So replicating culture into the services that we offer has become a high priority for us so we can help these people identify with their culture, with their tribe and with their values.”
Duke said there aren’t enough inpatient substance abuse treatment options for American Indians in Oklahoma.
“At any given time, we have somebody who comes in seeking inpatient treatment because they recognize they have a serious problem with drugs or alcohol, and we can refer them to an inpatient treatment center, but there is almost always a waiting list of three to six weeks,” Duke said.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement that he was hopeful the CDC study would bring more attention to an issue that affects people across the U.S.
The Chickasaw Nation, one of the largest tribes in Oklahoma, offers several mental health options to American Indians, including residential drug and alcohol treatment, according to the tribe.
“While treatment and prevention are vital tools in the fight against substance abuse, it is also important to understand the issues which may lead an individual to abuse alcohol or other substances,” Anoatubby said. “Therefore, we believe offering opportunities for people to further their education, find a meaningful career, connect with their culture, deepen their spiritual life and develop strong family ties are all part of the equation.”
Written by: Jaclyn Cosgrove, MEDICAL AND HEALTH REPORTER of NEWSOK